By Bridget McCrea
Intent on getting to the “next level” in real estate without having to work 24/7 and give up their personal lives, a good number of Massachusetts REALTORS® have turned to the team concept. Using this approach, multiple, licensed sales associates and support specialists operate as a single unit under a specific brokerage. In some cases the team members are given specific titles and roles (listing manager, buyer specialist, lead generation manager) but in other cases the teams comprise multifaceted members who fill a number of roles. Real estate teams come in all shapes and sizes. Here, four of them reveal their secrets to success, their top obstacles, most prized accomplishments, and future plans.
Leading By Example
With about $87 million in sales for 2012, the Lillian Montalto Signature Properties Five-Star Team in Andover came together in 1994. “Once I hit 30-35 closed transactions annually,” says Montalto, broker-owner, “I knew that I needed to clone myself in order to be in two places at the same time.” She initially hired a showing partner whose sole responsibility was to show listed properties. “I’d meet with buyers for the initial consultations, pick the properties, and then send my showing partner out with them to see the homes.”
Montalto says that first team member allowed her to take sick days and vacation time without worry that her business would come to a screeching halt. Soon she would begin adding more team members to the stable, training them over a two-month period, and placing them in both active sales and administrative support roles.
Today, Montalto’s 10-person team comprises two showing partners and seven administrative support personnel. The team concept has worked well for Montalto, who realized early in her career that good salespeople tend to be adverse to details and would rather spend their days prospecting, negotiating, and networking. “We don’t want to get mired in the details – we just want to sell,” she admits. “My goal is to get face-to-face with buyers as many times as possible during the day.”
Montalto has learned a few team-building lessons along the way. For starters, she says taking the time to document specific job procedures is absolutely essential. “You can’t just put someone in a position and expect them to blend with the team and help its progress,” says Montalto, who prefers to “lead by example” by staying active in the listing and selling processes. “The team leader can’t just sit back; he or she has to be the horse that pulls the wagon and helps everyone get to the next level.”
It’s a Family Affair
Before Mark Madden joined forces with his father, John Madden, to form The Madden Team at Century 21 Commonwealth in Watertown, the pair had already spent years developing a strong bond rooted in mutual respect and openness. This bond has proven itself as the secret success recipe for the father-son team that formed in 2009 – three years after Mark Madden got his real estate license and began selling homes.
“Real estate was my first job out of college,” recalls Madden, a REALTOR®-associate. “When my father took an interest in the industry a few years later we decided that joining forces would be a great way to combine our efforts toward a common goal.” The move has paid off. In 2012 they sold $8.8 million in properties and have been awarded the the Century 21 Quality Service Award every year since becoming a team.
We have now received a 95%+ service satisfaction rate more than two years in a row, making us recipients of the Service Award,” says Mark Madden, who notes that the results are based on surveys completed post-transaction by buyers and sellers. In addition to the accolades that his team has accumulated since inception, Madden says he’s gained peace of mind knowing that someone is there to handle customers when he’s not able to. “If one of us can’t make it to an appointment, the other one is always ready to jump in,” says Madden.
Relying solely on the administrative support supplied by their broker, both members of The Madden Team also know that they can rely on one another.
They recently began using the collaborative online application Evernote to make that process easier and plan to step up their use of similar tools this year. “Evernote helps one person know what the other is doing in terms of a specific client or transaction,” says Madden, “and also allows us to work more remotely without having to check in all of the time.”
Not Afraid to Make the Bold Moves
Tom Matthews was a licensed agent for two years before realizing that there just weren’t enough hours in the day to work with his current clients, handle the sales paperwork and follow up, and market his services to new prospects. The latter frequently fell by the wayside, according to Matthews, who as a result was dealing with an unpredictable business pipeline. When he heard that Joanne Paleo Taranto, a recent Boston College grad, was having a hard time finding a career path, Matthews approached her about partnering up to form The Tom & Joanne Team at Sotheby’s International Realty in Weston.
“I was dealing with the rollercoaster of having sales and then managing the dips created by my inconsistent marketing efforts,” says Matthews, co-owner of the team – which sold $19 million in properties last year. Looking back on his 2005 decision to partner with Taranto, Matthews says it was one of the best moves he’s made since getting licensed in 2003.
Moving operations from Maynard (where the average home sales price is $250,000) to the higher-end Weston area in 2007 was another fortuitous step, according to Matthews and Taranto, who would have to endure eight sales-less months as they worked to build up their business in the new
locale. The payoff has been significant: in 2012 the pair sold its first million-dollar property and has since added several more seven-figure sales to its repertoire.
Recently, the Tom & Joanne Team added a new face to the team by hiring an administrative staff member. “At the end of 2012 we took an introspective look at our progress and realized that we were both out there doing non-money-making tasks,” says Taranto. “We looked first at virtual assistants – based on the success we see other agents having with them – and then decided that having a full-time person on board to handle our support activities was the best move.”
The Power of One
The 20 team members at McGeough Lamacchia Realty in Waltham sold roughly $100 million in real estate in 2012. Unlike Montalto’s team, this group formed when two former RE/MAX agents came together to create a partnership. The year was 2002. John McGeough and Anthony Lamacchia were ready to break out of the traditional brokerage model and put together a team that would include both salespeople and administrative support personnel.
“We knew it would just be a matter of time before we did our own thing,” says McGeough, co-broker and owner. “I saw similar characteristics in what Anthony was attempting to do so it made sense to partner up and start down this path.” Prior to that revelation, McGeough says he handled all real estate tasks on his own and with no administrative support. “It was just me doing everything.”
McGeough says he and Lamacchia take an informal approach to team leadership – often hiring new members as the need for them arises. “It hasn’t been a perfectly mapped out plan by any means,” says McGeough. “We just scaled our ranks up as the business grew from 25 annual closed sales to 70 to 150.” Most team members are assigned duties based on individual skill sets. The dividing line, according to McGeough, lies between “acquiring the business” and “servicing the business.” That finds some team members focused on hunting down new clients, he explains, and others focused more on follow-up and support.
For McGeough and Lamacchia, the transition from solo agents to team leaders was a learning experience. Delegating and then hoping that the assigned tasks get completed in a consistent, quality manner, for example, was a process that McGeough had to warm up to. To offset the challenge he says both team leaders conduct regular training – sometimes in short, 15-minute “bursts” as needed – sessions with new and existing team members. “That helps us ensure synergy across the brand,” says McGeough, who also takes care to bring on team members that complement (and not necessarily exactly match) his own skill sets and capabilities. “Instead of just trying to duplicate yourself, focus on finding people who can take on tasks that you’re not cut out for.”